Chronological Order versus Canonical Order
All of God’s word is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16), but the order of books in the Bible is not. The order of the books in the Bible is man-made. There is no divinely inspired order of Bible books. In fact, the order of Bible books differs between the Bible of the Hebrew, the Catholic, the Protestant, and the Eastern Orthodox. If one were to use a standard Bible and start reading in Genesis and read book-by-book in order to Revelation, he would be reading the Bible in canonical order.
The Bible not being in chronological order can sometimes make studying the Bible more difficult than is necessary. The standard order of books in most Bibles today is the canonical order: Genesis to Malachi and Matthew to Revelation. The canonical order of books does not follow a chronological order all the way through the Bible. Rather, it follows the order of books found in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome in the 4th century A.D. The “canonical order” groups books together according to their type of literature: law, history, poetry, and prophecy in the Old Testament; gospel, history, and epistle in the New Testament. The “chronological order” groups books or portions of books together according to their historical date and content.
Benefits of Chronological Bible Reading
Reading the Bible in chronological order has two important benefits not by found using other reading methods. First, reading the Bible chronologically gives one a better sense of the overall flow of Bible history from beginning to end. The reader learns to keep a Bible passage in its historical context and order. By reading chronologically, the Bible student can more easily follow God’s plan of salvation from the beginning – the “mystery” that has been manifest from times eternal to the present (Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26). Remember, the Bible is not a catechism or a topical textbook arranged by subject matter: God, man, sin, salvation, etc. The Bible is a single and unified message of salvation that flows through several periods of history.
Second, reading the Bible chronologically allows the reader to put together the historical events with the doctrinal lessons attached to them. For example, in the Old Testament, one can read about the tumultuous events of the life of David in 1 Samuel, followed by the God honouring feelings of his life in the book of Psalms. Or, one can read about the ungodly history of Israel in 1-2 Kings, followed by the powerful sermons preached by the prophets during that time. The historical events are explained by the spiritual lessons and vice-versa.
Tools for Chronological Bible Reading
There are three types of helps available to anyone interested in reading the Bible chronologically.
First, chronological study Bibles are available for purchase in various translations. The books and chapters in these Bibles are rearranged from the standard, canonical order and printed in chronological order. Most chronological study Bibles contain both the Old and New Testaments, but a few contain the New Testament only. One older example of a chronological Bible is The Student’s Chronological New Testament by A.T. Robertson (Fleming H. Revell, 1904). There are also several contemporary chronological Bibles to choose from. The Chronological Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers uses the New King James Version and is highly recommended. The One Year Chronological Bible by Tyndale House Publishers uses the New International Version and the New Living Translation. The Narrated Bible In Chronological Order and The Daily Bible: In Chronological Order by Harvest House Publishers both use the New International Version. The Seamless Bible: The Events of the New Testament in Chronological Order by Charles C. Roller and The Reese Chronological Bible by Bethany House Publishers both use the King James Version.
Second, if someone wants to use his own Bible, he can purchase a printed outline of Bible passages in chronological order. The reader would follow the chronological outline and read from his own Bible. One example of a printed chronological outline is: Footsteps Through The Bible: A 52-Week Chronological Reading Plan and Study Reference by Richard M. Gagnon (Hendrickson Publishers, 2000). Another helpful outline is: Read Through the Bible in a Year: In Chronological Order by John R. Kohlenberger III (Moody Publishers, 2008).
Third, there are numerous internet resources available for chronological Bible reading. For your convenience I will list five below but there are many more.The advantage to these sources is that one does not have to spend any money to get started reading chronologically.
One site is: www.ewordtoday.com/year/. This site contains five Bible reading plans including a chronological plan which can be used with several English versions and some foreign language versions.
Another online site that contains a chronological plan in different versions is: www.bibleplan.org/.
You can also look at the chronological reading plans supplied by Back to the Bible (www.backtothebible.org/index.php/Bible-Reading-Guides.html),
Bible Gateway (www.biblegateway.com/resources/readingplans/),
Into Thy Word (www.intothyword.org/articles_view.asp?articleid=31608&columnid=3801),